Offseason Overview – New York Yankees
2011 RECORD: 97-65
PRESIDENT: Randy Levine GM: Brian Cashman
Dealing Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for the right-handed stud Michael Pineda was the Yankees highlight this past winter. Furthermore, the club inked veteran Hiroki Kuroda to a friendly one-year deal and shipped out A.J. Burnett’s contract to Pittsburgh in order to tack-on Raul Ibanez as a DH platoon-man.
The most important aspect of the Yankees offseason was the club’s decision not to spend big on free-agents and instead to improve through trades and strategic short-term contracts. This is derived from ownership’s persistence to cut payroll from its current $210 million figure to below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014. Whether that is feasible, we will get to later in the post, but for now let’s analyze the effects of Cashman’s recent moves.
The Montero for Pineda swap made headlines and sparked great debates. On one side, fans were upset that they just lost a potential perennial all-star bat (who may or may not be able to play the field) but on the other hand, the club received an absolute beast on the hill who is… wait for it… actually proven himself.
Pineda is 6-5/260 and averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball in 171 innings last season. He finished the year with a 24.9% strikeout rate and a league-high 11.8% SwStr% (Swinging Strike %). Overall Pineda posted a 3.42 FIP and 3.4 WAR.
In exchange for this beast, the Yankees were forced to part with a beast of their own in Montero. In 69 plate appearances last year, Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with a .421 wOBA. Granted it is a small sample size, Montero combined to showed great patience at the plate with a 10.1% walk rate while boasting a .262 ISO.
The biggest knock on Montero is his apparent inability to play the field. If he settles in as a DH, his value definitely tanks; keep an eye out for him at first base.
To me, this trade is a no-brainer for the Yankees and a head-scratcher for the Mariners. It reminds me of 2007-2008 when the Giants were rumored to have entertained a Tim Lincecum – Alex Rios swap (I know it still scares me to hear that now). A starting pitcher with Pineda’s tools and stature is far more valuable and rare than a premier hitter who struggles at defense.
Joining Pineda in the Yankee rotation is veteran Hiroki Kuroda who inked a one-year $10 million deal. This could be one of the top steals of the offseason: Kuroda comes to NY with a career 3.55 FIP, 12.2 WAR, and 699 IP over four years of work with the Dodgers. Kuroda’s strikeout rate has been increasing over the years but in 2011 he saw his groundball rate dip to 43.2% after being above 50% in his career previously. This is a concern since Kuroda will be more susceptible to giving up homeruns in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium if he is unable to keep balls on the ground.
What did Kuroda do differently in 2011?
1) Threw his fastball 39.9% more in 2011 than in 2010 and his sinker 16.18% less in 2011 than in 2010.
2) Kept his fastball high in the zone, resulting in less groundballs and more fly-balls.
More fastballs high in the zone explain the dip in Kuroda’s groundball rate and therefore his career-high 11.3% HR/FB.
A cool $210 million. Ownership is definitely altering its philosophy on shelling out multi-year multi-million-dollar contracts each offseason. Moving A.J. Burnett gives NY some breathing room for minor midseason adjustments (possibly at DH).
If all goes well, the Yankees will be in the World Series come the end of the year. The rotation is solid with the additions of Pineda and Kuroda under ace CC Sabathia. If Ivan Nova can provide a solid 180 innings and a Freddy Garcia/Phil Hughes 5-spot holds up, the Yankees will be dangerous.
We know what this club is able to do offensively – there isn’t much to question on that realm. Keeping Alex Rodriguez healthy in 2012 will be easier with him spending time at DH (and the same goes for Derek Jeter).
Big question: Can the Yankees drop payroll to $189 million and stay competitive through 2014?
Getting to $189MM will be a task in itself since A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia will eat $75.125 million combined in 2014. That leaves $113 million for the remaining 40-man roster which faces two key free-agencies in 2013: Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Cano will surely receive $20+ million per year and Granderson may command close to that if he stays anywhere near his current pace of 7 WAR seasons.
Essentially, $189 million means no more A-Rod types of big-name free-agent splashes. I am ecstatic about this because now we shall truly be able to see and appreciate Brian Cashman’s talent as a General Manager.